Understanding Back Pain
With the sedentary lifestyle many of us lead, both in and out of work, back pain is an increasingly prevalent health problem. Lower back pain, also known as Lumbago, is irritating and painful, but it’s not a disorder in of itself. In the majority of cases, it’s just a symptom of several different kinds of medical problems, usually rooted in a problem with one or more parts of the lower back; the muscles, the ligaments, the nerves or the vertebral bodies. Sometimes, it can also be an issue tied up in the organs around the same area, such as the kidneys. While it’s usually benign, it can really pay off to be more clued-up on this common health problem. Here’s a closer look at back pain.
What Are the Causes?
The most common root causes of lower back pain are strains, and structural problems in the spine. Successful therapy and treatment depends on pinning down the cause of your back pain issue. Strained ligaments and muscles are the most prevalent causes of back pain. These usually occur through repeated, incorrect lifting of heavy objects, or sudden, awkward movements of your hips and back. It can also occur from over-activity. One common issue is the isolated, sore feeling and stiffness you might experience after hours of playing a sport, gardening, or some other chore. If you’ve brought on back pain through these kinds of activities, then the treatment is usually fairly simple; controlled stretches, exercise, and getting out of bad habits that may have been pushing your back too far.
Aside from common strains, your back pain might be the result of structural issues in the spine. Disc injuries, in particular, are a fairly prevalent cause of back pain. Discs are the pieces of tissue which cushion the space between the spine’s vertebrae; the interlocking bones which make up the human spine. Some people will suffer back pain from a bulging, ruptured, or herniated disc. When any of these things happen, the nerves in the spine can get compressed. While herniated discs manifest as an intense pain in the back, some structural issues in the spine can be less obvious. For example, a bulging disc pressing on the nerve that runs from your back down your leg can cause irritation to the sciatic nerve. Sciatica is commonly experienced in the leg as tingling, numbness, or pain. There are certain abnormalities affecting the whole skeleton that can also manifest as back pain. This includes scoliosis, or the spinal canal being narrowed down as a symptom of arthritis. Osteoporosis, the loss of bone density and the thinning of various parts of the skeleton, can lead to fractures in the vertebrae in some patients, known as compression fractures. These fractures cause intense pain, localized in the back.
Symptoms, and When You Should Worry About Them
Like many people, you may be all too familiar with the common symptoms of back pain; dull, constant aching in the lower back, stabbing and shooting pains, a limited range of motion, and so on. Generally, when originating from common forms of strain, these symptoms will only last a matter of days or weeks. When the pain lasts for more than three months, it becomes chronic, and may require the touch of a specialist. While the large majority of patients with back pain don’t have all that much to worry about, there are certain cases where it can indicate a much more serious issue. If you’re not sure about telling your doctor about your back pain or not, more serious conditions usually come with symptoms aside from the regular ache in your back. If you’re experiencing reduced bladder control, numbness, tingling and so on in one or both legs, lingering pain following some kind of trauma to the back, such as a nasty fall, or unexplained weight loss, let your doctor know immediately. It’s unlikely that your back pain coupled with another symptom is the sign of cancer or another serious condition. However, if it is, the sooner your physician is aware of it, the better your treatment will go.
Like any condition, it helps to know about the risk factors tied to lower back pain, and to avoid these as much as is practically possible. One of the biggest risk factors of modern times is the sedentary environment so many of us work in. A lot of us sit at a desk for long hours in the average working day, in many cases with poor posture, and little room for exercise. It can be tough to wean yourself off the habits at work that may be causing you back pain. However, there are various techniques you can use to prevent back pain when you’re at work. Perhaps you lead a more active lifestyle, with a lot of high-impact physical activity. Obviously, this has benefits to it, but if you’re engaging in these activities without stretching and warming up beforehand, it could seriously up your risk of straining yourself and experiencing back pain. If you’re getting into old age, you’re more at risk of a weakened skeletal structure, which can lead to many of the conditions which cause persistent back pain. Furthermore, if you’re obese, it can place a lot of strain on the bones, and up the risk for back pain. One commonly overlooked risk factor of back pain is your mental and emotional health. Studies have shown that people who experience anxiety or depression, or simply work in highly stressful jobs, are more likely to experience back pain from some condition.
How Back Pain is Treated
In the majority of cases, back pain can be treated effectively with simple anti-inflammatory painkillers, such as ibuprofen and naproxen. Analgesics, such as acetaminophen, are also viable options, although these medications generally don’t have as much anti-inflammatory properties, which you might need for effective relief. Excluding acetaminophen, these kinds of medications should always be taken with food, as they can be an irritant to the lining of your stomach. You may already know this, but you have to be careful with medications such as ibuprofen if you have any pre-existing conditions like stomach ulcers and kidney problems. Furthermore, you should never exceed the recommended dosage of any over-the-counter medication without talking to your doctor first. Even though they’re given more openly than prescriptions, these medicines can have serious side effects if you’re not taking them correctly. If the pain is severe, your physician may recommend medications that zero in on other areas of pain response, such as gabapentin or amitriptyline.
There are various home remedies that may not fully cure the condition causing your back pain, but can be very effective at providing some relief. Ice packs can soothe inflammation, and relieve discomfort in the more acute phases of persistent back pain. There are also various exercises you can try that will improve your posture, and strengthen the back and ab muscles. There’s plenty of information on these online, but if needs be, a physical therapist can guide you through them.
In rare, isolated cases, your doctor may recommend surgery for your condition, which is generally used as a last resort. This is almost always applied for structural abnormalities in the spine, especially those that haven’t responded to conventional medicines and treatment, nerve compression that’s led to weak muscles, and severe, unremitting pain.
Following treatment, some patients find it helpful to go in for alternative therapy, such as massage, acupuncture, chiropractic treatment, and cognitive behavioral therapy. Just remember that these should never be used to sub out conventional, medical treatment altogether.